GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – People hit the St. Johns River on Friday for “Boater Skip Day,” an unofficial annual holiday where people play hooky for a day on the water.
Among the areas with the largest crowds is the Bayard Point sandbar off Green Cove Springs in Clay County. In 2020, deputies estimated 1,500 boats anchored up.
This year, big crowds came back, bringing safety concerns and the county’s largest marine operation to date.
Dozens of sheriff’s deputies, state wildlife officers and firefighters set up a command post near the shore. Boats circled the water as early as 6 a.m.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office, which led the operation, called in mutual aid from St. Johns, Duval, Putnam and Nassau counties, as well as the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“It’s definitely a huge undertaking with a big group effort, which makes it go a lot smoother and a lot easier,” said Lt. Scott Moreland, a special operations coordinator with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.
He said being proactive was the key to success and other agencies were happy to help.
In the summer months, there are more boaters and more boating mishaps -- problems the marine unit is trying to prevent.
“Making sure everybody’s being safe, keeping the boating under the influence down, keep the accidents down, make sure everybody’s having fun but just being safe,” said deputy Bill Maher, who works full-time as the county’s marine unit.
He said alcohol abuse is one of the biggest problems deputies deal with -- people drinking too much, fighting and boating under the influence.
“When people get to drinking too much, they think they’re OK to drive a boat,” he said.
Deputies on patrol boats were also making sure everyone’s vessel is properly equipped with life jackets, whistles and fire extinguishers.
“We want to make sure that everybody has a safe and enjoyable time,” Moreland said. “We don’t want to work any accidents. We don’t want to put people in jail.”
Deputies said they’d be happy if the day ended without an incident.
“No accidents, no injuries, everybody goes home with all the same fingers and toes they came with,” Maher said.
He reminded people that law enforcement is not just on the water on holidays -- they’re keeping watch daily. He urged people to learn boating laws and make safety a priority.
At time of publishing, deputies said there were no arrests or major injuries.